How to create a safe and healthy office environment

The impact coronavirus has had on our view of hygiene is undeniable. We’ve all played our role in preventing the spread of the disease by washing our hands, staying indoors and maintaining a safe distance at all times. After almost two months in lockdown, it’s safe to say this behaviour is starting to feel normal, maybe even habitual. This means it’s more than likely that we’ll carry this level of hygiene into regular life when it resumes.

This goes for inside the workplace too. When desks start filling up again, employees are going to want to know the health and safety procedures in place that will prevent the spread of illnesses. Employers and employees have an equal responsibility to provide resources and enforce guidelines that make your workplace as safe, healthy and hygienic as it can be.

The changes you make to our office environment don’t have to be drastic. Some simple shifts in your hygiene habits, office layout and additional resources could increase your likelihood of staying healthy and free of sickness. Here are some ways you can prevent the spread of illness in your workplace and ensure your team remain safe and healthy.

Switch up your desk layout

We’ve seen the effects that social distancing has had on reducing the rate at which germs spread from person to person. This is something we can enforce on the office floor as well. Simply adding more space between rows and banks of desks will help you maintain a safe distance between one another during the day. With more space between our personal workstations, we can reduce the amount of direct contact we have with our colleagues. This will help protect your belongings from gathering germs and bacteria transmitted by coughs or sneezes.

You could also invest in getting larger desks if moving them further apart isn’t possible. Desks have gotten smaller and smaller over the years as businesses have to accommodate a growing workforce without the need to upscale to a larger building. Getting desks with more depth or a longer length will help to put more distance between employees that have to work in close proximity. This is particularly helpful in meeting rooms where you’re likely to need a group of people next to each other for hours during the day.

Improve ventilation and air quality

The quality of the air you breathe is crucial to your health. Low-quality air can negatively impact your lungs and increase your chances of becoming ill. During summer when the air conditioning units are running all day, it can really take a toll on your chest. It can become dry and you’re more likely to develop a cough and sore throat. Similarly, throughout winter, the heating being on a high temperature to warm the building can cause particular problems for those with respiratory conditions like asthma. 

It’s important to maintain the flow of high-quality air throughout the workplace. Opening windows and doors will bring fresh air inwards and improve ventilation and circulation. When pollination is high during the summer months, or in winter when the weather is cold and wet, having windows open isn’t always appropriate. Installing proper air filtration and purifying systems will improve the quality of air around you, particularly if you work in an area where dust and debris can reach you.

Reduce shared resources

Sharing resources is unavoidable when you’re working in an office. Particularly in coworking and open office spaces where you have to share common areas with a large number of other businesses. With a great deal of traffic building up in these spaces, you’ll be exposed to germs from a high volume of usage on shared items and surfaces. Kitchens and bathrooms are the biggest culprits for germs and bacteria as some employees will have better hygiene habits than others.

Introducing more fridges, sinks, microwaves and bathroom cubicles into your work environment will give people choice over how and when they use facilities. This will help you avoid densely populated areas and exposure to others. Putting more bins around your office and common areas will lead to less rubbish building up in your surroundings. A rota will make sure everyone knows whose turn and responsibility it is to take out the rubbish. This will help everyone know when to dispose of their rubbish to avoid wrappers and food going mouldy and producing bacteria. 

Enforce regular cleaning practices

It’s important that cleaning resources are provided for employees in your office building. Hand sanitisers with a high percentage of alcohol will help you stay clean at your desk where there aren’t any sinks around. You should have hand soap by all sinks in the kitchens, bathrooms and washrooms that kill a high percentage of bacteria. Making sure wipes and sprays are provided will prompt workers to give their laptops, mouses, desks and phones a clean during the week. It might be worth providing instructions showing where the cleaning supplies are to make sure everyone can access them when needed. It may seem basic but simple signs and instructions above these areas will act as a reminder to stick to the rules for the benefit of everyone.

You may have a weekly cleaner that hoovers and wipes down the surfaces but thorough anti-bacterial cleaning procedures may not be done every week. We typically judge cleanliness by the amount of dust on a surface but carpets, floors, bathrooms and kitchens will all gather bacteria that are not seen by the naked eye. You may want to schedule a professional deep clean a couple of times a year to completely kill bacteria in the workplace. 

Go contactless where possible

Going contactless wherever possible will minimise the need to touch shared surfaces throughout the day. Swipe cards could be a great addition to building entrances so you don’t have to touch door handles. You could install motion sensors in kitchens, bathrooms, hallways and common rooms to prevent the need to touch light switches. No-touch sensors on lifts, sinks and toilet flushes will prevent the build of germs on surfaces near areas that get a high volume of traffic.

Putting your heating and air conditioning on an automatic timer means you don’t have to adjust the thermostat during the day. These additions don’t just improve hygiene, they help to reduce your energy consumption and save money. Where contactless isn’t possible, ensure you have robust cleaning protocols in place. Charts will show how often the premises are cleaned so you’re fully transparent with your employees. 

Having robust hygiene procedures in place around your office from now on is imperative to reducing the risk of getting ill. With everyone enforcing social distancing and hand washing rules, we can prevent exposure and spread of germs around the workplace. This level of teamwork and transparency not only improves hygiene but ensures employees can trust each other. Knowing you’re all working towards maintaining a safe and healthy workplace will boost staff morale, motivation and satisfaction in the long run.